In 1960 the Trust responded to another troubling challenge in the educational landscape, arising from the South African government’s 1951 embargo on African students from northern territories attending tertiary institutions in South Africa, and the closure of the Jan Hofmeyer College – then the only institution in Africa devoted to the training of black professional social workers.

The Trust made a large capital grant and underwrote a loan, to the value of £60 000,00 to establish a multi- racial college of social service in Lusaka whose aim was to produce for Central Africa trained social workers at two levels: candidates eligible to go forward with formal university training, and professional social workers able to work in industry, municipalities and government. Apart from funding, the Trust took the lead in driving additional support from other agencies, triggering a UNICEF grant of £15 000,00 a year to cover costs of professors, lecturers and bursaries targeting students outside the Federation and their fieldwork costs – “The first the Fund has made to any schools of social work in Africa – and perhaps in the world,” trumpeted the Rhodesia Herald in September 1962.

Other funders included the Beit Trust with £5 000,00, the British South Africa Company with £18 000,00, the Dulverton Trust with £5 000,00, the Gulbenkian Foundation with £3 000,00, the Commonwealth Welfare and Development Fund with £7 860,00, the Southern Rhodesia Government with £1 000,00, the Rhodesian Lotteries with £13 000,00, the Nyasaland Government with £1 000,00, and the Northern Rhodesian Government with £15 000,00. The amounts invested in this institution – huge at the time – reflect the intention. It was, said Rodney Malcolmson, then Minister of Local Government and Social Welfare in Northern Rhodesia, to be a constructive force training people in social sciences and social work so that “…today’s rapid changes can be interpreted for the good of the people. … We have concentrated on economic development and education in the sense of imparting knowledge. This college gives us the opportunity to study people, rather than plans, and to make sure that the ordinary citizen will be able to understand the benefit in terms of happiness from economic and political change.

Known as the Oppenheimer College of Social Services, it overcame various political and construction hurdles, and opened in April 1962. A strong relationship was forged with the University of London and Professor D.V.Donnison, Professor of Social Administration at the London School of Economics and Political Science, visited the College and reported to Harry Oppenheimer in November 1962 that: “I was impressed with much I saw. Studies of social change in Central Africa now being made at the college will contribute to academic knowledge and university education on an international scale. …There is an urgent need for trained social workers in Central Africa, in government, industry and voluntary bodies. This need will grow still more urgent as a result of the rapid economic and social changes now proceeding, the extension to Africans of services hitherto provided for Europeans only, and the growing demand for African staff in the social services.” At the first graduation ceremony held in 1964, diplomas were presented by Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s then Prime Minister. In 1965, the newly named Oppenheimer Department of Social Work was absorbed into the University of Zambia, offering both degree and diploma courses.

In April 1958, a relationship started between the Trust and the 30 year old South African Institute of Race Relations that continues to this day through its programme of annual grants. But during the 50s, initial ad hoc assistance was followed by a major grant for a national Conference on Coloured Education. SAIRR was established in 1929 as an independent research body with the objective of promoting policies for positive socio-economic change based on extensive research across a range of sectors, including politics, economics, education and health. Often incurring the wrath of government, political parties or business, the SAIRR maintains its independence despite being reliant on donor funding.

It was perhaps a radical digression, for both parties, when the the OMT supported the Institute’s engagement with the visual arts in 1963, with Art of the Nation, later known as Art South Africa Today: Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary South African Art. This followed SAIRR’s pioneering support of theatre as a driver for change, with the African musical Mkhumbane and the drama Sponono. Organised by the incomparable Jo Thorpe, who went on to start the African Art Centre in Durban, the exhibition involved BICA (Bantu, Indian and Coloured Arts) with the Natal Society of Arts and the Durban City Council offering gallery space. Its purpose was described in the catalogue, “… to show paintings and sculpture from all corners of South Africa and from all its different peoples. In so doing, it intends to give South Africa the unique opportunity of seeing how artists of all races contribute to a common culture, which is typically South African. Many of the younger South African artists who are rapidly winning reputations in the major centres are completely unknown to their fellow countrymen. …The successful outcome of this exhibition which has already provoked tremendous interest and enthusiasm among artists all over South Africa will contribute to better human relations and understanding among the peoples of our country.”

With OMT funding, extended to 1975, the organisers had absolute freedom to apply an annual grant as they saw fit. The literature reads like a Who’s Who of the South African art scene over this period, with selectors of the calibre of Pauline Vogelpoel, organiser of the British contemporary Art Society at the Tate UK and US art critic Clement Greenberg; judges that included Walter Battis, Professor Neville Dubow, Esme Berman, Cecil Skotnes and Khabi Mngoma; exhibiting artists such as Louis Maqhubela, Andrew Verster, Malcolm Payne, Omar Badsha, Bill Ainslie, Sydney Goldblatt, Ezrom Legae, Lawrence Scully, Azaria Mbatha, Maud Sumner, Paul Stopforth and Gavin Younge. Exhibitions were regularly opened by celebrities such as writer Uys Krige, architect Revel Fox and patron Mary Slack.

The focus changed. John Kane Berman, current Director of the SAIRR, comments on the relationship with the OMT. “This has been a formal relationship since 2000, and the OMT funds two things – approximately 20 annual bursaries administered through SAIRR for tertiary studies based on academic ability, promise and need. Disciplines are not stipulated but this funding offers access to universities and technikons, across a spread of gender and origins countrywide, and SAIRR tries to ensure that students from poor rural schools benefit. The second area is an annual grant for core funding.”

Kane Berman regards this an unusual and enlightened approach, which is enormously appreciated in an age of reducing donor funding. “The great majority of donors – and it is a growing trend – unfortunately want to fund specific projects and especially visible projects such as a crèche or hospice.” He does not dispute the need for such facilities but emphasises that SAIRR operates at a policy level. “Problems in education, for example, cannot be solved simply by building more schools, teachers or facilities; while necessary, education in South Africa is failing because of poor policy. One can deal with crime by financing Community Police Forums and buying vehicles but it is policy that drives the change and the SAIRR believes it is essential to deal with problems at the policy level which necessitates research into facts, behaviour, options. These are hugely expensive activities. They are usually politically tricky.”

Funding from the OMT enables SAIRR to conduct research and inform rather than actually deliver on the ground. There are, he asserts, very few that are willing to support such activity, or to support individuals, activities or projects, that are not necessarily politically correct or flavour of the month. “Again, that is rare both in this country and for major US foundations which are seldom as far sighted as the OMT has been. Their support for us, and other independent institutions of civil society, is critically important for our democracy.

The Trust was also a keen supporter of the Bureau of Literacy and Literature, founded through SAIRR as part of its adult education programme, shortly after its 1947 Conference on Adult Education. Early commentary records the Bureau’s commendable focus on building literacy, teacher training, helping African writers with publication, offering African language courses for Europeans with initial primers produced in Tsonga, Zulu, Sotho, Xhosa, Venda, Pedi, Tswana, and in English and Afrikaans, coupled with the dubious desire to keep Africans away from ‘pernicious’ literature. Over a period of 18 years, it produced 26 books in 9 languages; ran literacy classes on the mines, at missions, at farms and in industries throughout the country. A report drafted in 1959 revealed statistics on literacy and language trends – some disturbing and some impressive. It also noted the need to ensure adult literacy given the growing literacy of the younger generation, and acknowledged the value of literacy for industry in regard to educational advancement and safety issues, and the potential for positive effect on consumer markets should literacy grow. In the latter instance, the authors noted that the “purchasing power of the Bantu population already exceeds £400 000 000,00 per annum.”

Prescient indeed – these views were echoed by Maja Katha Mokoena, a resourceful student leader who fled to Botswana in 1976 following the student riots. He received a scholarship to (Massachusetts) Amherst, supported by the Trust, and wrote in the Harvard Business School Bulletin of 1993: “The real strength of political power lies in the economy. The sheer number of blacks in South Africa could support new businesses. And there would be much more harmony between white and black people if they had things to do in common on the business front.”

But the focus was ever on people, and an early individual recipient of funds was Walter Holzhausen, in the late 50s a young newly married employee of Barclays, studying for a B.Comm through UNISA. Looking back, he writes: “… I have never been a normal student and never saw a university nor professors or students. This was the UNISA way. …It may interest you that of the four or five years with Barclays Bank, I spent most of the time as a little clerk in their branch situated in the ground floor of the Anglo American building.” A grant from OMT helped him to finish his studies, and an Honours (‘The Harmonisation of Export Credit Insurance Schemes in the European Economic Community’) and a Masters degree (‘Federal Finance in the Developing Economy of Malaysia’ – subsequently integrated into a text book), both from UNISA, followed. Now in his 80s, he wrote recently to thank the Trust for their faith in his abilities some 50 years ago, which equipped him to take up a position with the UN serving over 24 years as UN Development Programme Resident Representative and UN Co-ordinator in Malaysia, Indonesia, Uganda (“… in the days of His Excellency, Life President, Field Marshal, Doctor, Al Haj Idi Amin Dada, V.C., D.S.O., M.C., Conqueror of the British Empire”), Malawi, Ghana, Bangladesh and Turkey. Recognising what the Trust’s support had meant to his life and career, while in Uganda he organised his own scholarship programme and helped 15 AIDS and war orphans to get their university degrees. “…The fact that some of those students that my wife and I sponsored in Uganda never thanked us for our support, reminded me of the fact that I too probably never thanked your fund in a proper way. The purpose of this message is to thank you belatedly for your generous grant in those days which made my life easier and enabled me to continue studying. Without my degrees I would not have been able to fulfill the basic requirements of the United Nations.

Among the first black recipients were Dowa Mgudlwa to study for a BSc. at the University of the Witwatersrand, Conrad Koza to study medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, and Lionel Mtshali, who was assisted with his BA UED studies at Fort Hare. Mtshali later became the first Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology in the newly democratic South Africa. Overall the list of early beneficiaries is impressive, including J.K.I. Matthews to study medicine at Birmingham, Andrew Tracey and Aggrey Klaaste, with interests ranging from arts to entomology to race relations. Strangely – but happily for posterity – whether in war or peace, civil disturbance or social acquiescence, certain aspects of life go on. Since 1951, the Jagger Library at the University of Cape Town had been building up a collection of letters and other manuscript material relating to General Jan Smuts. Field Marshal Smuts was a former Chancellor of the University, and this collection included personal, hand written letters – for example to General Robertson accepting a dinner invitation, correspondence with Sir Thomas Graham (covering the period 1902 to 1937) when he was Minister in the Cape Cabinet immediately after the South African War, and information about Smuts’ military expedition into the Cape Colony and his plea for lenient treatment of the Cape ‘rebels’.

The material was purchased initially with the financial assistance of the Smuts Memorial Committee, on whose behalf the items were bought, but in 1964 the collection was given to the University Library. Janine Dunlop, Librarian: Manuscripts and Archives at UCT Libraries, says “It seemed appropriate that other papers and correspondence becoming available from time to time should be added to the collection, so in early 1965, the Acting University Librarian, Miss L. E. Taylor, approached the Trust to fund the purchase of such items should they be offered commercially. The Ernest Oppenheimer Memorial Trust made the grant available to the Jagger Library in April that year.” This grant – and subsequent funding – was gladly accepted by the University’s Principal at the time, Dr. J.P. Duminy, giving the means to secure rare and much sought after memorabilia. Dunlop adds: “According to our records, a number of very important and valuable letters were acquired, including 30 letters by General Smuts, all in his own handwriting, on scientific subjects mainly relating to discoveries in palaeontology and pre-history during that time. The library also acquired a bust of General Smuts by Marion Walgate, as the Trust’s view was that although the primary purpose of the grant was to collect papers and documents relating to General Smuts’ life, it would be desirable for the collection to also contain artefacts.”

It was this collection, housed at UCT, that enabled publication in 1967 of the Smuts papers ‘The Sanguine Years’ by Cambridge University Press. No less important is the support the OMT has given to the African Studies Library over many years. A discrete unit in the UCT libraries, the ASL is committed to collecting material covering the entire African continent with a natural strength and focus on South and Southern Africa. ASL is funded jointly by the University of Cape Town Libraries as well as by an annual grant from the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust through the Harry Oppenheimer Institute, which has enabled the library to develop collections in a very special way. Sandy Rowoldt Shell, Head: African Studies Library at UCT comments: “Whereas the funding from the university enables us to purchase materials covering South and Southern Africa, the OMT grants have meant that we have been able to send a member of staff to three or four different African countries at regular intervals to seek and purchase local imprints, as well as materials relating to each country that would otherwise be difficult, if not impossible, to identify and locate.” The result of these focused purchasing trips is invaluable: “The ASL is widely regarded as one of the best African collections in the country as well as on the African continent, and compares favourably with similar collections in Europe and North America.”

This important and developing resource is housed at the African Studies Library, and is accessible to the staff and students of the university as well as to all bona fide researchers. But the process of acquisition is apparently never smooth, as told in extracts from an essay that records trips made by Dr. Colin Darch, ‘Travels of a Bibliophile in Africa – By the Book’ (UCT’s Monday Paper 29 October 2007).

“…These book-buying forays are one of the pleasures of his (Darch’s) job. He loves books and he loves Africa and has a wide and useful network of friends and former colleagues on the continent. It makes hunting and procurement that much easier. … His 2002 sortie took him to Lusaka, Blantyre, Zomba, Harare and Maputo. In 2003 the search went to Accra, Lagos, Ibadan and Port Harcourt. And last year he visited Kigali, Kampala, Nairobi, Bagamoyo and Dar es Salaam. His reports read like travelogues. The trips are not leisurely rambles through African bookstores, universities and libraries. There’s quite a bit of preparation required in procuring title lists from publishers in each country. And it’s tiring work. Each purchase requires its own paperwork, notes and descriptions. But it’s the unexpected find that thrills him. Each trip yields something rare and interesting – beyond scholarly monographs or research reports. In Rwanda he was able to complete a rare, three-volume dictionary in Kinyarwanda and French, with examples of usage taken from Rwandan oral poetry. These are things you can’t order by post. Each trip yields between 400 and 600 new items for the African Studies Library.”

Showing commendable independence, the Trust did not shy away from people or causes that, at the time, were widely viewed as dissident or unfashionable. An intriguing case in point involves the Albert Geyser Heresy Trial of the 1960s. Geyser was a Nederduitse Hervormde Kerk Minister and Professor of Divinity at University of the Witwatersrand who had in 1962, while Professor of New Testament Theology at the University of Pretoria, been convicted of heresy by a synodal commission of the NHK because of his opposition to apartheid in the church. A settlement was reached and the commission’s findings set aside, but an early recipient of an Ernest Oppenheimer Fellowship, Pretoria theology student C. Jongeleen reported to the Trust that, having testified for Professor Geyser at the Heresy Trial, “…I encountered great ill will” – presumably from students and staff. The Trust agreed to renew his fellowship following his relocation to Stellenbosch. For his part, in 1963 Geyser publicly leaked internal Broederbond documents passed on to him by Reverend Beyers Naude (himself a disenchanted former Broederbond member) because, as he said, he wanted to frustrate their aims: “My immediate observation was that these people (Broederbond) were making the church, which is the bride of Christ, the servant girl of politics.” In the ensuing political furore, the opposition United Party called for Nationalist Prime Minister Verwoerd’s immediate resignation as he had been a member of the Broederbond for 25 years. Predictably, he spurned the suggestion, saying that many organisations held secret meetings “including the Oppenheimer organisation.”

Another aspect of the spoken word, poetry, was not overlooked either. Outspoken critic of the nationalist government, the controversy around poet Ingrid Jonker was enhanced by the fact that her father, Abraham Jonker, a National Party MP, was chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee responsible for censorship of the arts, publications and entertainment. The Trust supplemented the prize of £1 000,00 she received in 1964 from the Afrikaans Pers-Boekhandel for her book of poems ‘Rook en Oker’ (Smoke and Ochre), enabling her to make a study tour of Europe and attend a lecture course at the University of Amsterdam. Dying tragically in 1965, her poem ‘Die Kind’ (The child who was shot dead by soldiers in Nyanga) was read by President Nelson Mandela at the opening of the first democratic Parliament in South Africa, and she received posthumously the South African Government’s Order of Ikhamanga for her contribution to literature and commitment to the struggle for human rights and democracy in South Africa.

During this period, the Nationalist Government made it extremely difficult for black South Africans to travel, and the Trust made numerous grants to individuals wishing to study abroad and, if needed, to pay the necessary deposit for a passport. Among these was aspirant – now acclaimed – photographer Peter Magubane. A grant was made to Skota Publishers (founded by T.D. Mweli Skota, well known newspaper editor, writer and interpreter) to introduce the first African Who’s Who. Another grant covered maintenance of a family for one year while the father – the breadwinner – took a scholarship in West Germany, exemplifying the Trust’s practical response to life’s vagaries. Such grants did, in fact, become a regular feature of the Trust, enabling advancement without undue financial pressure. Working with the Council of Education at the University of the Witwatersrand, the Trust sustained research into issues around education, such as dual medium or bilingual schools, and the potential of an immigrant teacher scheme. It supported the visit to South Africa of Sir Robert Birley, then headmaster of Eton, who prematurely gave up this position to become Visiting Professor and Head of Education at Wits: he also taught at Orlando High under then principal, Professor T.W. Kambule who subsequently built a library in his honour. And, among many other grants, one F. Green was supported in making a Choreological Study of Indigenous Dance, through the University of Cape Town; and Trevor Jones, now famous for his musical scores for blockbuster films, was assisted with music tuition, demonstrating the range of activities funded.

The Prisoners’ Relief Fund was another of the early recipients of a standing annual grant. The Trust was asked initially by the Reverend Donovan Martyn of Sunninghill Parish to assist prisoners serving long sentences at Pretoria Central to take up academic courses and use their time well (the correspondence shows that the primary occupation at the time was stitching – by hand – postal sacks). Reverend Martyn writes: “This is heartbreaking work and I have several times been tempted to give it up, but I do want you and your Trustees to know how much your graciousness and understanding have encouraged me and the prisoners concerned. None of us will easily forget.” There were many prisoners who benefited from the Trust’s payment of course fees and materials. The reports show uniformly high marks across courses that range from construction and draftsmanship to legal and business degrees. One individual, studying in 1964 for his B.Comm, writes to thank the Trust: “The knowledge my studies have given me, and still give me, have altered the way of thinking which resulted in my coming to this place … your benevolence has completely changed the life of one man, and I shall always remember with gratitude that when I stood at the cross-roads of life there was a hand held out in encouragement … I hope that the day may come when I shall, in my turn, be able to help another as you have helped me.” He did, in fact, help others but not perhaps in the way he intended: he was asked by the Department of Economics at UNISA for permission to reproduce some of his work in tutorial material, because of its unusually high quality!

A decade on, the Trust reviewed its activities and noted that during 1969 it had supported 169 undergraduates ranging from librarians to doctors, of whom 102 were black… and there was an almost 100% pass rate. Of the 700 new bursary applications received that year, only 66 were approved but at the same time, grants were introduced for postgraduate studies at South African universities and, for the first time, for professors and senior lecturers to advance their studies overseas during sabbatical leave. Interestingly, this latter group included Professor Chris Barnard, the Groote Schuur surgeon celebrated for conducting the world’s first successful heart transplant, and Dr. M.C. Botha, the immunologist in the heart transplant team. The Trust also reported that a social worker from the Meyrick Bennett Children’s Centre in Durban, Violet Padayachee, was sent to Columbia University where she obtained her Master’s in Social Science, becoming one of the most highly qualified social workers in the country.